Youth Empowerment

Youth empowerment is a multi-faceted process, driven by factors such as a stable economic and social base, political will, access to knowledge, information and skills, peace, democracy and positive social structures. Furthermore, as with any social and cultural change, youth play an integral role in shifting paradigms and creating an environment where all individuals believe in, and understand the importance of, gender equality.

Africa is currently experiencing a bulge in its youth population. Data from the World Bank reveals that in 2015 40.9% of Africa’s population were under the age of 14, which is well above the world average of 26.06%. Being the world's most youthful continent, Africa’s need to emphasise youth empowerment and development initiatives is of the utmost importance.

The NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment provided funding to projects which benefitted young girls.Interventions, among others, included business and vocational skills training; literacy, numeracy and life skills training; the development of teaching and training materials for such interventions; the provision of and access to safe drinking water; the construction of youth hostels; enhanced food security; the improved nutritional status of young girls and women; capacity-building programmes as well as employment and income generating initiatives; access to micro-finance and micro-enterprise support; securing land and inheritance rights for young women; increased access, enrolment attendance and retention rates of girls in school and the establishment and funding of schools.

In total, more than 36,000 young women and girls benefitted from the disbursements provided by the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment. These youth empowerment initiatives are in alignment with the aspirations set out in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which strives for an Africa where development is people-driven and the potential of its women and youth unleashed. The youth empowerment projects provided positive and life-changing support that will continue to benefit future generations of young African women.

Key lessons learned from projects:

  1. Increase the retention rate of girls in school
  2. Increase the involvement of parents in their children’s education and development
  3. Prioritise capacity-building activities to address youth unemployment and improve the livelihoods of young girls

Increase the retention rate of girls in school

According to NEPAD’s Annual State of Youth Report 2011, over one third of young African pupils are not making the transition from primary to secondary education at typical secondary school ages. The presence of overtly patriarchal norms and limited funds that can be allocated to education have negatively impacted on female educational outcomes in some African communities. Many young women are forced to complete labour- and time-intensive tasks to provide for their families, at the cost of furthering their education.

Considering these circumstances, certain of the projects funded by the NSF implemented initiatives to increase the retention rate of young women over the course of their education. The Inter Africa Group undertook a youth empowerment project which supported 1,100 out-of-school adolescent girls between the age of 12-18 from the Tigray, Harari and Somali regions of Ethiopia. These young women were assisted in re-enrolling at neighbourhood schools and were provided with mentorship and basic needs support to successfully complete their education. Furthermore, The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Synod of Livingstonia project in Malawi found that, in order to achieve gender equality in education, mechanisms to increase the access, enrolment and attendance rates of girls in school needed to be developed. To this end, the project initiated 10 School Improvement Plans (SIPs) which were specifically developed to improve the educational outcomes and school retention rates of young girls in the project area. In order to accomplish this task, it is important to conduct studies on the reasons for school absence in particular communities, as well as the marginal costs associated with removing these attendance barriers. In many communities, for instance, increases in female school attendance can be accomplished simply by providing menstrual hygiene products. However, this solution may not be the most effective in all relevant communities and differentiation between circumstances is vital to successful interventions.

Increase the involvement of parents in their children’s education and development

To maximise the value that children gain from education it is critical for children to be supported, motivated and mentored by their parents and guardians. The LIVE-Addis project, based in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, focused on the economic and social empowerment of 431 vulnerable, young women between the age of 17-28 through the provision of vocational skills training. The project coordinators noted that the key to the success of the project was the involvement of parents in the motivation and monitoring of their children. There was thus a need for parents to act as proactive counsellors to the young women to ensure that they did not drop out of training or unduly miss classes.

Prioritise capacity-building activities to address youth unemployment and improve the livelihoods of young girls

Unemployment is one of the greatest problems facing young people in Africa. In most African countries, unemployment among young people is considerably higher than among the general population and young women are far more disadvantaged in this regard than young men. Youth unemployment and situations in which young people give up on the job search or work under inadequate conditions, incur costs to the economy, to society and to the individual and his/her family. The need to prioritise capacity-building activities among young women to address youth unemployment and to improve their livelihoods therefore emerged as an important imperative in many of the projects.

For example, the Good Samaritan Training Centre in Ethiopia provided vocational training for disadvantaged young women. The project’s involvement improved the livelihoods of 88 young girls from the Nifas Silk-Lafto sub-city, one of 10 sub-cities that make up Addis Ababa. The training covered a diverse array of vocations such as hairdressing, catering as well as machine and hand embroidery. This training culminated in the young women obtaining gainful employment, thereby improving their social and economic outcomes. The Gambian Women’s Bureau established a project to improve the economic outcomes of 100,000 rural Gambian women through education/training, creating employment opportunities, as well as investments in equipment and infrastructure to alleviate the physical burdens many women face. This training not only directly benefited the beneficiaries, but also created opportunities for the young female dependents of the women. Furthermore, education initiatives were provided in each of these communities to empower the young women who attended. This training provided the attendees with critical skills to drive economic emancipation for the young women.

The LIVE-Addis project focused on the economic and social empowerment of 431 vulnerable, young women between the ages of 17-28 living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Interventions included marketable vocational skills training in a diverse array of industries, ranging from the beauty and wellness industry to the transportation industry. The young women similarly received entrepreneur and business skills development training. Additionally, participants received assistance in identifying marketable employment areas, developing business plans and creating their own income generating opportunities. As a direct result of the project 342 young Ethiopian women between the ages of 17 -28 could generate an income for themselves and their families. The vocational skills training enhanced the human capital of these young women and the knowledge they acquired will filter down to serve and empower future generations.